Israel ramps up air strikes as Palestinians fire rockets
Warning sirens Tuesday night sent Israelis scrambling for bomb shelters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where a police spokesman said two rockets landed on the city's outskirts. Other rockets struck as far north as Hadera, more than 70 miles north of Gaza. Israel said that its missile-interception systems blocked 29 of the rockets, including two over Tel Aviv, and that no injuries or major damage were reported.
The Israeli military said it carried out air strikes against more than 150 sites in Gaza, killing five alleged members of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. Ashraf al-Qidrah, a spokesman for Gaza's Health Ministry, said early Wednesday that 24 Palestinians had been killed and 152 wounded.
The Israeli operation against Hamas in Gaza is the third since 2008, and it came against the backdrop of weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank - which Israel has blamed on Hamas - and the suspected revenge killing of an Arab youth.
Since the abduction of the three Israelis last month, mortar rounds and rocket shells have been fired at Israel almost daily from Gaza, including almost 100 on Monday, according to the Israeli military.
In a sign that the cross-border conflict could widen, Israel said Tuesday that it had called up 1,500 reservists and was mobilizing two infantry brigades, artillery, combat bulldozers, and tanks along the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion. The Israeli cabinet subsequently approved the call-up of an additional 40,000 army reservists, according to the Defense Ministry.
A drawn-out operation
The operation "won't end in a day, and it won't end in two days; it will take time," Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's cabinet minister for internal security, told Channel 2 TV.
In Gaza, residents filled mosques for Ramadan prayers and patriotic songs blared on car radios as Hamas and other extremist groups spent the day and night lobbing short- and medium-range Qassam, Grad, and Fajr-5 rockets at Israeli territory.
The Israeli military said a small party of Gaza frogmen attempted a raid near the seaside Israeli army base in Zikim, just north of the Gaza border. Hamas took responsibility. Israeli soldiers who stopped them killed four Hamas extremists, who arrived on the beach with grenades and automatic weapons, and one Israeli soldier was wounded in the fight, the Israeli military said.
'Take their gloves off'
Hours after Israel launched what it called "Operation Protective Edge," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the army to "take their gloves off" against Hamas and increase attacks on Gaza, according to an account by a senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Early Tuesday afternoon, the Israeli military said it killed Mohammed Shaaban, 24, whom Israeli officials described as an important Hamas operative in Gaza. In Gaza City, the car carrying Shaaban was struck by a missile while crossing a busy intersection near the main market, witnesses said.
Also among the dead were seven people, including three teens, who were killed in an air strike on the three-story house of a Hamas operative in the teeming city of Khan Younis, Hamas officials said. The operative was apparently not among the dead.